Around the world and back
"We started traveling by plane with our son, Luke, when he was three months old. By the time he was twelve months, he had flown from Alaska to Taos, N.M.; Kalispell, Mont.; Portland, Ore.; Cleveland, Ohio; Seattle, Wash.; Annapolis, Md.; and Hawaii," said Gretchen Colonius, who currently lives near Seattle.
While most parents won't be traveling with their young babies quite as much as Colonius did, the need or desire to travel will arise occasionally. However, it's a good idea to wait until the baby's at least a month old. "Young infants under one month of age are real susceptible to viruses," said Dr. Sarah Wright, a pediatrician at the Salem Pediatric Clinic in Salem, Ore.
According to Dr. Wright, these babies are at a greater risk of exposure during air travel, where there are so many strangers in such tight quarters. However, even after passing that five week milestone, traveling with any baby who's less than six months old can be quite challenging, especially if there are other kids involved.
"I would advise other moms to travel with another adult when at all possible," said Daniela Ball, a 31-year-old mother of two from Keizer, Ore. "This prevents you from stumbling around with all the baggage piled up on you, a baby in one arm, and another child clinging to your one free hand."
Ball flew to Los Angeles from Portland, Ore. with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and five-month-old son. "Since I was traveling alone, I mentally prepared myself by remembering the worst scenarios from my last trip," Ball said. "My [then 18-month-old] daughter decided to cry at the top of her lungs for the last half hour of the flight. Her diaper and two spilled drinks also leaked onto the plane's seat, which was so dirty that her white tights turned brown."
Being prepared, both mentally and physically is important. Carma Shoemaker, mother of three from Chester, Virginia, took a 12-hour car trip alone with her oldest son when he was only four months old. "I began preparing for the trip a few days before," said Shoemaker. "I made a list of what I knew I would need as well as what I may need in an emergency or other situation.
"Another thing I did that helped a great deal was to plan out my travel route in advance," she continued. "I wrote the directions in steps. Instead of having to try to read maps and figure out where I needed to go, I simply read the next step in the sequence."
Babies will get fussy being strapped in their car seats for too long. The amount of time they'll tolerate traveling depends on the baby. Dr. Wright suggests breaking your schedule into smaller pieces, taking breaks every one to two hours, or more often, if necessary.
"As I was still breastfeeding my son, I planned stops for gas, food, drink, etc., to go along with his feeding schedule. This helped cut down both the stress and the travel time," said Shoemaker. One piece of advice for breastfeeding mothers that was repeated by those who've been there, bring plenty of water and snacks for yourself. "It helps keep your mood, energy and alertness going," said Shoemaker.
If you are traveling with another adult, you may find it necessary to move into the back seat if your baby becomes excessively fussy between stops. I remember one time sitting in the back seat of a compact car squeezed between the car seat of my three-and-a-half-year-old son and the rear-facing infant seat of my four-month-old son, nursing the baby in his seat. It took some flexibility on my part, but you do what you have to in order to keep your baby calm and quiet.
Michelle Marr, 28-year-old mother of two from Salem, Ore., found her baby very easy to travel with. When asked how far she had traveled, she replied, "A couple thousand miles by car. We looped down through the redwoods in California and across to Denver."
At the time, her daughter was three and a half years old and her son was just two months. The only thing she said she'd have done differently would've been not to camp at a site that had frequent problems with bears.
"I was a nervous wreck all night long," she said, "thinking of the pamphlets that say bears are attracted to unusual smells and how much breastmilk had probably leaked into my sleeping bag by that point."
In general, however, Marr felt the car trip was a success. "It's not as bad as everyone says."
You have different challenges on an airplane.
"Normally I recommend either to breastfeed, bottle-feed or offer a pacifier during take-off and landing," said Dr. Sarah Wright. She explained that this opens the eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the nose, and equalizes the pressure on both sides. This should ensure a much more pleasant trip for your baby and all the other passengers.
Also, keep in mind that what might be appropriate for adults and older children is not necessarily a good idea for young babies. When asked about giving a decongestant to help relieve the pressure in a baby's ears, Dr. Wright said, "I recommend you don't use decongestants for infants under six months. You should try to avoid those medications, even during a normal cold."
She said that this is the general consensus of doctors due to the fact infants are more susceptible to bad reactions, such as a jump in blood pressure. So that leaves you with the breast, bottle, pacifier, or, possibly, thumb. Anything your baby can suck on to stay comfortable.
Oh, and don't forget the joys of a midflight diaper change. Colonius advised setting a blanket on the floor of the bulkhead or the galley area. "Don't let the attendants or other passengers give you a guilt trip for taking care of the toileting needs of your child while on the plane," she said. "Be as fast and efficient as possible, and put the diaper in a barf bag before disposing."
You should consider entertainment, as well.
"Activities for young babies are easy--nurse, sleep, look at your face or your husband's or the nice lady next to you," said Colonius. "As they get older, more novel activities are nice. Toys on strings for easy retrieval as they experiment with gravity again and again and, yes, again."
Finally, Ball suggests you not forget about your own needs. "Last, but not least, tuck in a book or magazine for yourself in the hopes that you will find a golden moment to sit back, read and sip your refreshment while the kids nap."
Well, you can always dream.